Modern Heat author Heidi Rice takes a gander at Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe's new look at the old Sherwood legend and finds a passionate, provocative and surprisingly complex action movie with a heart-melting and nicely subtle romance at its core...
Robin Hood is a legend that I absolutely adore. The anarchist in me loves all that stuff about stealing from the rich to feed the poor, the romantic in me swoons at the image of the handsome bad boy rebel and the tomboy in me loves all the fighting and swordplay and shooting of arrows and living in treehouses. And I've never been much of a purist, so I didn't mind a bit when Errol Flynn donned green tights and a curly perm in the middle of a forest, or Kevin Costner's Rob had an American accent or the white cliffs of Dover popped up next to Nottingham in Prince of Thieves!
So I was really looking forward to Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe's much talked-about - and much troubled - new production, because early word said it was going to be an entirely new take on the old story and I was thinking... Ay, ay, that sounds interesting... Plus Ridley's films are always brilliantly made and I like Crowe. I think he's an intense, intuitive, take-no-prisoners kind of actor who isn't afraid to venture outside the box that defines his star persona. His performances in Master and Commander and LA Confidential being a case in point. And I'm glad to say I wasn't disappointed by this new Robin Hood in the least.
The story is bigger and much more politically complex than we're used to with the hooded man. This isn't just about local politics in Nottingham, it attempts to look at the broader picture of Medieval society at the time: the ludicrousness of the divine right of Kings; the crippling cost of Richard's folly in the Crusades; the threat of the French just across the Channel; the discontent of the Northern barons... etc. etc. and it has at its centre a brilliant conceit. What if Robin Hood wasn't an aristocrat who was outlawed for helping the poor? What if he was actually a common man? A simple archer whose experiences in the Crusades have made him aware that no man has the right to dictate to another?
Crowe is brilliant as this new, meatier Robin. He's heroic but in an entirely believable sense. Having fought for a vainglorious King, he's jaded by combat and yet must live by his fighting skills, for his own survival and that of his comrades. But then he's touched by the plea of a dying man... And ends up discovering a side of himself, a conscience and a purpose, that he had never before considered.
And then for us hopeless romantics we get to add Cate Blanchett's strong and fiesty Maid Marion to the mix. There are several deliciously subtle scenes between the pair, where it's obvious that Crowe's Robin and Blanchett's Marion don't have a clue what to make of each other. She's above him in status - and yet is drawn to his strength. They're attracted to each other but not just in a physical sense... Although for those of us who enjoy the odd guilty pleasure, there's a gloriously sexy but beautifully understated scene where she has to help him out of his chainmail! (And just in case you were wondering, Russell may be several years older than he was in Gladiator - and is not afraid to look his age - but he's still got a very nice chest.)
The epic finish of the film - which plays a bit like Saving Private Ryan meets Henry V - is gloriously over the top, and there's no doubt that Scott and Crowe had at this point decided to jettison the idea of being more realistic in favour of being more true to their story and their characters. But frankly this is myth and legend, so I could get behind that.
Myself I loved this movie.... The scope, the scale, the new elements it brings to the story, Crowe's wonderfully human Robin and Blanchett's feminist Marion. But maybe I'm not the most discerning judge, as I've loved all the big Robin Hood films - right back to Errol's daredevil Sherwood dandy, complete with curly perm!
Heidi's latest Modern Heat, Unfinished Business with the Duke, is currently available online in the UK and will be out in shops in June. It's due out in the US come October as a Harlequin Presents Extra. If you've got a passion for Robin Hood, or any other buff guys, come have a natter with her on her blog, on Facebook, or through her website. She loves to hear from readers... And indeed other writers.